The Interstate Highway System as seen from space. At 4.1 million miles, the U.S. has more roads than any other nation.

Talk about getting it in under the wire.

One day before Congress broke for summer vacation, during which the Highway Trust Fund would’ve run out of money it owes to road, bridge, and transit projects under construction, President Obama signed the first extension of federal surface transportation funding legislation.

In July 2012, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) provided $105 billion through Sept. 30, 2014. That gave Congress and the White House just two years to resolve thorny issues – raise the federal fuel tax for the first time in two decades? remove Washington entirely from the funding formula? – their predecessors couldn’t resolve in six.

Instead the Senate agreed to an $11-billion House proposal, enough to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until June 2015.

Like past emergency extensions enacted as Washington argued over the assets without which coast-to-coast commerce would cease, the money’s being transferred from the U.S. Treasury: $7.765 billion for highways and $2 billion for mass transit. Highways are also getting $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund.

The fights over the federal deficit produced a requirement that there be a plan to pay that $10.765 billion back:

  • $6.3 billion will come from “pension smoothing,” an accounting practice (some would say gimmick) that lets companies contribute less to pension plans so they’ll be able to report higher taxes, which is then earmarked for roads and bridges. As far as anyone can tell me, this provision doesn’t apply to public pension plans.
  • The rest will come from customs fee increases.

Both were used to fund MAP-21.

Were any of the projects you're working on affected by the protracted battle over the highway bill? If so, in what ways? I guess you can relax for the next 10 months, eh? E-mail me at sjohnston@hanleywood.com.